The Scrutiny Committee meets tomorrow (Tues) to decide the fate of the bid for Cornwall to become European Capital of Culture. It is an issue that has become highly politicised, it has heat to use the jargon.
It has become nothing less than the fight for the future of the soul of Cornwall.
Instead of asking Should we bid to become ECOC? You could also ask What kind of Cornwall do you want to see in 2030?
On one hand, say supporters of the bid, you have a spiral of decline, cuts gleefully and faithfully administered, on the other a confident, aspirational and inspirational Cornwall that competes with the best.
The Tories are a good machine and they’ve done very well on this, wheeling out the old populist tricks. They’ve got ahead in the election campaign before the opposition knew the starting gun had sounded. Because that it what this is all about.
It is not about the phony excuses the Tories and their sympathisers have given for calling this in. It’s not because the Mayor of Truro didn’t know about it (he did). Some have asked ‘why this investment and not others?” – it’s timing. Unfortunately for Julian German, there’s an election on May 4th.
As a senior Cabinet member said to CS “It’s all about ambition and a vision for Cornwall. If there wasn’t an election this would have gone through no problem”
The timing aspect is crucial. It has been generally agreed that, indeed, the decision to finally go ahead with the bid was a bit rushed. The Conservatives have made great hay over this, however it was a deliberate decision to wait. Yes, the other cities have been planning and spending money on their bids for two years now. There had been some discussions about a Cornish bid and some preparations in 2015, and then again back in April of last year. The planners knowing that we had alot of the work done already from back when the Region of Culture attempt was made.
Tim Dwelly’s Economic Committee discussed it in the Spring and on that committee sit Truro City Councillors. But Cornwall, quite sensibly, waited for the outcome of the referendum before spending any money, then waited again for government confirmation that the bid was still open and yes they are still inviting applications. This decision was only announced in November.
Further discussions were held, the structure of the bid discussed, partners lined up, bid money gathered etc etc. By Dec 22nd Julian German had enough in place to reveal exclusively to CS that Cornwall would be wanting to apply. In an ideal world he could have been talked about it with more people.
The news was received extremely favourably at the time. Everyone seemed happy.
Unbeknownst to everyone else though, the Tories had spotted this as an opportunity. Even though this is an Independent’s initiative, make no mistake that this whole fuss is an orchestrated campaign by the Cornish Conservative Party to discredit the Liberal Democrats who make up the majority in the Cabinet.
It probably could have been anything the Tories would be objecting to. It was unfortunate timing for the ECOC bid that it wandered in to the cross hairs at the wrong time.
Julian German, a highly respected and well thought of Councillor is the independent behind the bid. His initiative has the backing of the Leader John Pollard and when assurances were given to Cabinet that all would be done to reduce the burden on Cornish Taxpayers, the Lib Dems voted it through. The only objection on the day was Andrew Wallis, populist Independent who has a legitimate cause for complaint that his Child Services have been cut by 35%. The Lib Dem and Independents voted it through 9-1 at Cabinet.
How can the Lib Dems get out of this mess they have created for themselves?
Best chance for bid (and for the Lib Dems) will be for Scrutiny Committee to dismiss the charges and let it proceed, which they could do on Tuesday, if only one independent member dislikes the party politicising enough to vote it through. Party politics has a bad name at County Hall and blatant politicking like this is generally frowned upon.
The bid itself is on a tight time schedule and delaying it any further weakens the bid. If it gets sent back to cabinet, that’s another month of inaction.
If gets sent back to cabinet it will be in all likelihood (we are told) be dropped amyhow before it gets there as it will be seen to be too politically hot for the Lib Dems to handle in March, so close to an election.
If they haven’t dropped it yet by then, the Lib Dems could be tempted to delay the decision til after the council elections and by doing so kill the bid stone dead.
That will be playing direct into the Tory hands either way and the Lib Dems will look a confused shambles with an election six weeks away.
The only way out of this mess for the Lib Dems if it gets sent back to Cabinet and the Lib Dems make a stand. You’d hope they would want to slug it out with the Tories and stand up for what they believe in. We’ll see.
The heat itself may cool down though (especially if you stop believing the only opinion that counts is that of Laurence Reed show) and as the support for the bid is revealed. It could be turned into a positive.
- Neil Burden (Chairman) ind
- Derris Watson (Vice-Chairman) LD
- Mike Eathorne-Gibbons Ind
- Dominic Fairman LD
- John Keeling MBE Tory
- Gemma Massey LD
- Sue Nicholas Tory
- Jude Robinson Lab
- Rob Rotchell LD
- Ian Thomas Ind
There are substitutes if these people can’t make it.
Jude Robinson (Lab) is experienced enough not to be fooled by the Tory electioneering and should vote favourably but no guarantee. Certainly, Tim Dwelly Leader of the Council’s Labour Group has fully supported the bid and has said of the Tory campiagn against it “They are either stupid or they are lying”
If the Lib Dems can’t be controlled to put party interests above naive bandwagon jumping then there’s no hope of the majority control that Tim Farron was hoping for when he visited the other week. He called for party unity to achieve 70 seats. If these Lib Dems who have supposedly been waiting in the wings behind the Tories to call in the cabinet decision can’t see that they are being used by the Tories as speaking puppets, in such an obvious way, then the opposition to the Tory machine will be in such disarray again that the Blues are likely to stroll in to power whilst everybody else is asleep, again, as usual.
Ultimately the decision should be down to the three independents.
So what about the charges laid before the judge?
- That there has been inadequate consultation with stakeholders prior to the decision being made; and
- That there was inadequate evidence on which to base a decision and that not all relevant matters were taken into account.
- It’s agreed in hindsight that the process of getting the bid to Cabinet could have been handled better and some people were a bit miffed that they weren’t in the loop. However, the bid has received over 200 letters of support from partners ranging from Chamber of Commerce, LEP, Visit Cornwall, FEAST, Arts Council to Gorsedd Kernow. The desicion to finally go for the bid was necessarily in haste as the government only just announced it was proceeding (see above). To have proceeded beforehand would have been less responsible.
- The evidence has been gathered and collected for the last 10 years and there are multiple studies and evidence from Cornwall and across the world to show the economic benefits of investing in Culture. If some people aren’t aware of these, where have they been? Get with the programme. Even in cold cash terms this is a no brainer, even just thinking about the Cornwall Tourism ‘offer’. The money is coming from a specific fund that is earmarked for investment. Even this £0.5m could make us money , turned into more, it’s “magic bean” money. It doesn’t come back to Council coffers, it goes straight back to you, to the Cornish Economy.
How? And why do you need half a million to write a bid anyway? Because you need to put on some events to prove what you are capable of. So look: how about we spend £100,000 on a Man Engine Day in Truro? We are reliably informed it costs approx £30,000 just to get him out of the shed in the morning, so imagine he comes up Truro , all those roads closed off and big fair etc. Massive day down Truro. Thousands would come, from all over Cornwall from across the Tamar and they’d fly in from Germany especially for that. Lots of pictures all over the national media showing off Cornwall to the world. The main picture attached to this article is from Dly Ml when the Man Engine was in PZ for example.
So the thousands of people will spend their money in Truro on that one day, on Man Engine Day, and they could easily spend £0.5m in one day in Truro – and that’s just in Primark!!
Others will make a week of it and spend their money all over Cornwall.
Now think of a whole year of activities like that. Think how brilliant Cornwall will feel about itself and think of the boost to the economy.
And that is why the Scrutiny Committee needs to ignore the short term thinking and the Tory electioneering and let the bid proceed without any further delay.